Skip to comments.What’s So Special About John Calvin?
Posted on 03/22/2014 7:28:59 AM PDT by Gamecock
Calvins Neglected Spirituality
The spirituality of John Calvin is seldom examined. Although there are notable exceptions to this verdict by Howard Hageman, it seems generally true that even those who consult Calvin on theological or exegetical questions may be inclined to look elsewhere for spiritual direction. I suspect that a principal reason for this oversight has to do with what we mean by spirituality.
Once upon a time, daily rhythms were ordered by the tolling of the church bell and the annual cycle punctuated by the church calendar. People passed into the church to mark lifes milestones through rows of headstones. From baptisms to funerals, Gods presence was at least tacitly felt across the whole of life. Faith was a shared public frame of reference, not a private hobby of those who, in the words of modern theologian Friedrich Schleiermacher, have a talent for religion or a taste for the Infinite. Gods hand was discerned in floods, fires, and plagues as well as in fruitful harvests.
Of course, there were plenty of people for whom this was pious rhetoric more than genuine belief. Nevertheless, even a cynical interpretation has to reckon with the fact that everybody felt obliged at least to speak this way in public. To be sure, boundaries were policed, and there were always some bold spirits who tested them, but no one assumed a world in which religion or spirituality was a corner of private life.
Calvin Out of Context
Although Ive been a Calvin fan since I was a teenager, I feel more of a personal kinship after writing Calvin on the Christian Life. Calvin is often lifted out of his context. Consequently, both his views and his impact are often exaggerated by friend and foe alike.
For example, he is celebrated or vilified for his doctrine of predestination, despite the fact that he didnt have such a doctrineat least in terms of a unique view or emphasis. Theres nothing in Calvins teaching on predestination that isnt also found in the great stream of Augustinian teaching. Thomas Aquinas taught double-predestination: that is, both unconditional election and reprobation. Luther imbibed this teaching from his abbot and mentor, who wrote a treatise defending predestinating grace. In fact, Calvin cautioned that, in his Bondage of the Will, Luther over-stated things in some places.
Predestination is not a central dogma in Calvins thinking. In fact, it is not discussed in his Geneva catechism, where he summarizes the Christian faith. Rather, he underscores the crucial role that unconditional election plays in comforting believers that their whole salvation is in Christ. Like Luther and other reformers, Calvin believes that this doctrine is, first and foremost, biblical, and also an important buttress of salvation by grace alone. He cautions against saying more or less than God has revealed, resisting the tendency to speculate about such matters.
Calvin was not a phoenix, rising from the ashes of a fallen church. Conservative by temperament, he did not seek to found a new church. In fact, drawing on a host of specific exampleswith primary-source quotations, he frequently pointed out to Roman Catholic leaders that Reformed churches were the genuine heirs of the catholic heritage that the pope and his followers had recently corrupted.
Why Calvin Is Special
Then whats so special about the Genevan reformer?
First, Calvin was a first-rate exegete. Already a distinguished figure in the French Renaissance, the young humanist wrote a commentary on Senecas political work, On Clemency, that became a textbook in universities. After embracing the evangelical cause, he turned his attention to mastering Greek and Hebrew. Reading the Scriptures and the church fathers in the original languages, Calvins gifted memory enabled him to interpret a particular passage in the light of a host of other passages, both biblical and patristic. In short, he knew how to read and interpret texts.
Second, Calvin became a first-rate pastor. By his own admission shy and reserved (even cowardly, he divulges), Calvin did not come to Geneva to become a pastor. In fact, he was hoping to spend the night, meet some of the citys reformers, and move on. Yet others, especially William Farel, saw his gifts and convinced him to stay. He became a pastor. Even when he was sent away from Geneva, he eventually returned after steady pleas only because he believed that God had called him there through the voice of the church. There are many places in the Institutes where you see the pastors heart. After all, the book was written to prepare men for the ministry. But you really see it in his commentaries and especially in his correspondence.
Third, and related to that last point, Calvin is worth rediscovering because, for him, piety was broader and deeper than what we usually mean by piety or spirituality today. Like the ancient fathers, his view of piety encompassed doctrine and life. John Calvin knew no division of mind and heart or creeds and deeds.
A spate of books in recent years perpetuates the older Roman polemic that the Reformation set into motion the process leading to the Enlightenment and our secular age. However, drawing on contemporary historians, I would point out that the Reformation was a secondaryand in some places, primaryevangelization of Christendom. At a time when faith was publicly important but often personally irrelevant, at least for the average layperson, the Reformation brought Gods Word to the people; steeped them in its truths, and filled them with a sense that their everyday callings to their neighbors are part of their devotion to God. Princes and paupers alike sang the Psalms not only in church, but as they worked and played. And many of them sang them on their way to the stakes and gallows as martyrs.
Life as Piety
My goal in Calvin on the Christian Life is to display this unified vision of life as piety: as Calvin puts it, faith toward God and charity toward our neighbors. It is divided into four sections: Living before God, Living in God, Living in the Body, and Living in the World. Following Calvins unfolding argument in the Institutes, I nevertheless reach for other writings to catch a glimpse of how the doctrine that he taught actually shaped his personal and pastoral life. Rulers and peasants alike sought the reformers preaching and counsel, so his letters are an especially rich resource.
How did Calvins profound understanding of union with Christ play out in his view of ministry, prayer, and church unity? How could someone who is known for a stark view of human depravity also have a remarkably high view of human beings, including non-Christians? How could someone who taught the doctrine of election become the most missionary-minded of all the reformers, even sending the first Protestant missionaries to the New World? What did Calvin think about the relationship of the church and the state, the Spirit and the Word, the Word and the sacraments? Why is he still helpful to us for reintegrating doctrine and life as well as the public and private, corporate and personal, external and internal, formal and informal aspects of Christian formation and discipleship? How does he encourage us in our suffering?
If readers look to Calvin they will find a godly pastor who, with all of his flaws, evades the caricatures and exhibits the sort of piety that we need desperately today.
For example, he is celebrated or vilified for his doctrine of predestination, despite the fact that he didnt have such a doctrineat least in terms of a unique view or emphasis. Theres nothing in Calvins teaching on predestination that isnt also found in the great stream of Augustinian teaching. Thomas Aquinas taught double-predestination: that is, both unconditional election and reprobation. Luther imbibed this teaching from his abbot and mentor, who wrote a treatise defending predestinating grace. In fact, Calvin cautioned that, in his Bondage of the Will, Luther over-stated things in some places. [Emphasis Mine.]
Typical US democrat, in fact, other than lying about being a non-Catholic Christian while most democrat pols lie about being Catholic Christians. Then again, one does whatever it takes to get in office in the first place so if the local crowd is Protestant, so is the good lawyer who wants to control the city government.
Answer to headline: nothing.
Though there are some differences with Martin Luther, basically all Calvin or Luther ever did was to represent Saint Augustin to a world who had lost his incites.
Sure, Faith Alone is right out of Augustin. So is Scripture Alone, and most of all, Self and Self Alone.
That bit Christ Himself said about how those who had been grafted in could be cut off and cast in the fire? He didn't mean it. That's what is says, but that's not what it mean. Right?
Christ and the Apostles never mentioning that there were seven books in the Septuagint that shouldn' t be there? Minor oversight and even Augustin threw out the same seven books, right?
. Insisting that the Holy Spirit cannot and did not protect the Word of God from the inclusion of error from several hundred years prior to Christ until Luther? Yeah, Augustin was big on denying the power of the Holy Spirit which in effect means denying the Trinity. It denies the Trinity since an imperfect Holy Spirit could not be a part of the Trinity.
Right, just brought Augustin to the masses. Sure. I forgot to mention Calvin was a French lawyer who grew up with all the benefits of the upper class due to his father being on the payroll of the Catholic Church.
But I get your point. One can always trust lawyers from well off families who run city political machines and drunks who are protected by nobility as their rationalization for illegally seizing Church property.
It needed it desperately.
It needs it today in so many denominations.
Thomas Aquinas in his Summa Theologiae said "God does reprobate some.". But the question is how does he do it? God is not the author of sin, nor does He make anyone to sin. So how does He do it?
IMHO, it is simple. He lessens the restraint (boundaries) on their sin and lets them fall further into the corrupting nature of sin on the own.
A good example of this is Pharaoh's opposition to letting the Hebrews go to worship in the wilderness. After one of the ten plagues he would repent (a bit) and then turn around and oppose God yet once again. Romans says that God hardened Pharaoh's heart.
Again, how did God harden Pharaoh's heart without being the cause of his sin? My belief is that God moved some of the boundaries against evil and Pharaoh simply fell into it. Thus Pharaoh was responsible for his own disobedience and yet God's will was done.
How marvelous is God, far more subtle than man and whose ways are past finding out. But in some, we have a few clues.
Calvin’s Institutes is still the greatest book on systematic theology ever written.
The author is correct: Calvin’s errors are, in fact, endemic to the entire development of Western Christianity from about the point when Charlemagne’s court, able to read Latin but not Greek, raised Blessed Augustine to the status of the “Father among Fathers” and Westerners ceased to balance his views with those of Chrysostom and the Cappadocian Fathers.
Thanks for the ping, Gamecock!
....Calvinism isn't a religion of subservience to any government. The great national myths of Calvinist cultures are all of wars against imperialist oppressors: the Dutch against the Spanish, the Scots against the English; the Americans against the British. So when the Chinese house churches first emerged from the rubble of the Cultural Revolution in the 80s and 90s "They began to search what theology will support and inform [them]. They read Luther and said, 'not him'. So they read Calvin, and they said 'him, because he has a theology of resistance.' Luther can't teach them or inform them how to deal with a government that is opposition."Dort Pitted Calvinists Against Arminians (The Unjust Killing of Oldenbarneveld)
-- from the thread Chinese Calvinism flourishes
....we should not be surprised to find that the Calvinists took a very important part in American Revolution. Calvin emphasized that the sovereignty of God, when applied to the affairs of government proved to be crucial, because God as the Supreme Ruler had all ultimate authority vested in Him, and all other authority flowed from God, as it pleased Him to bestow it.
The Scriptures, God's special revelation of Himself to mankind, were taken as the final authority for all of life, as containing eternal principles, which were for all ages, and all peoples. Calvin based his views on these very Scriptures. As we read earlier, in Paul's letter to the Romans, God's Word declares the state to be a divinely established institution.
History is eloquent in declaring that the American republican democracy was born of Christianity and that form of Christianity was Calvinism. The great revolutionary conflict which resulted in the founding of this nation was carried out mainly by Calvinists--many of whom had been trained in the rigidly Presbyterian college of Princeton....
....In fact, most of the early American culture was Reformed or tied strongly to it (just read the New England Primer). Von Kuehnelt-Leddihn, a Roman Catholic intellectual and National Review contributor, asserts: If we call the American statesmen of the late eighteenth century the Founding Fathers of the United States, then the Pilgrims and Puritans were the grandfathers and Calvin the great-grandfather
-- from the thread John Calvin: Religious liberty and Political liberty
City of God!
More than likely you have never read anything by John Calvin. Many well known Protestant commentators' works that has stood the test of time and used extensively today (e.g. John Gill, Matthew Henry, Charles Spurgeon, Arthur Pink, etc) are based upon the works of John Calvin. And, if you were to read John Calvin's writings, you will find that he constantly refers to the early church fathers as well as the scriptures.
People who are willing to read his works normally come away with a far more appreciation of the man and his clear understanding of doctrine.
I agree. The question isn't really why does man fall into sin. As you've stated, God withhold His hand and we fall into our corruptible state. The real mystery is why does God saves any of us. With predestination we tend to focus on those who are destined for hell when we should be focus on why God has destined some of us for heaven.
1Ch 17:17 And this was a small thing in your eyes, O God. You have also spoken of your servant's house for a great while to come, and have shown me future generations, O LORD God!
1Ch 17:18 And what more can David say to you for honoring your servant? For you know your servant.
1Ch 17:19 For your servant's sake, O LORD, and according to your own heart, you have done all this greatness, in making known all these great things.
I give you saint Roberts, saint Stupid, saint Biden, saint Kennedy, saint Ryan, mommy Pewlouise, mommy Sebilius, saint Boehner... None of these have learned anything from history. But they sure did get their universal healthcare.